Friday, August 26, 2011

Harvesting and Storing Winter Squash

Winter squash can be harvested whenever the fruits have turned a deep, solid color and the rind is hard. Harvest the main part of the crop in September or October, before heavy frosts hit your area. Cut squash from the vines carefully, leaving two inches of stem attached if possible. Avoid cuts and bruises when handling. Fruits that are not fully mature, have been injured, have had their stems knocked off, or have been subjected to heavy frost do not keep and should be used as soon as possible or be composted (watch for seedlings in the compost).

butternut squash

Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F. For prolonged storage, do not pile squash more than two fruits deep. It is pref-erable, where space allows, to place the fruits in a single layer so they do not touch each other. This arrangement minimizes the potential spread of rots.

The squash family (Cucurbitaceae) includes pumpkins, summer squash and winter squash. They are really edible gourds. There are many varieties with a wide range of flavors and textures. Winter squash does not look the same as summer squash. Their tough outer shells can be smooth or bumpy, thin or thick and rock hard with a wide array of col-ors. The most popular winter squash includes acorn, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, delicata, Hubbard, spaghetti, sweet dumpling, and Turk's Turban. There are many more, but this section will be limited to the above-mentioned varieties.

acorn squash
Winter squash is planted in the spring, grows all summer and is always harvested at the mature stage in early autumn before the first frost. Imma-ture winter squash lacks flavor, so wait until the rind is hard. Harvest winter squash with two inches of stem remaining. A stem cut too short is like an open wound, which will cause early decay. For storage, harvest sturdy, heavy squashes with fairly glossy skin that is unblemished by soft spots, cuts, breaks or uncharacteristic discoloration. Most winter squash benefits from a curing stage; the exceptions are acorn, sweet dumpling and delicata. Curing is simply holding the squash at room temperature (about 70°) for 10 to 20 days. After curing, transfer to a cool (45 to 50 degrees), dry place such as the basement or garage for long term storage. Do not allow them to freeze. The large hard rind winter squash can be stored up to six months under these conditions. Warmer temperatures simply mean shorter storage time. Smaller acorn and butternut do not store as well, only up to 3 months. Store cut pieces of winter squash in the refrigerator. Refrigeration is too humid for whole squash, and they will deteriorate quickly.

Source: University of Illinois Extension

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